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Brexit and the Windrush Britons

The inhuman treatment of the “Windrush” immigrants contrasts starkly with the position of EU nationals under the Brexit transition agreement – and shines a light on how so-called “free movement” has operated to discriminate against British people (whether of Commonwealth origin or not).

Ever since Britain accepted the EU concept of free movement, EU nationals have been able to bring in children, spouses, and the children of spouses, from anywhere in the world without having to jump through the hoops required of UK citizens.

Now, with the transition agreement, EU nationals have further rights. In particular (Article 10), EU nationals resident in Britain before the end of the transition period will retain the right of permanent residence even if they have been absent from Britain for a period of more than five years.

Yet the Windrush Britons have been told that any absence from the UK since 1988 lasting more than two years will disqualify them from residence. One, Junior Green, was told in 2009 by the Home Office that to update his passport he had to prove he had lived here for each of the previous 10 years.

EU nationals seeking permanent residence in Britain are guaranteed a form that is “short, simple, user friendly”. The NTL (No Time Limit) form required of Windrush Britons is 21 pages long, with an additional 7 pages of guidance.

For EU nationals, the transition agreement says that the UK “shall ensure that administrative procedures for applications are smooth, transparent and simple and that any unnecessary administrative burdens are avoided”. Contrast that with the obstacle course placed in the path of the Windrush Britons.

And then there’s the cost. The NTL application costs £229 for a single person and £229 for each dependent. Plus a Biometric Resident Permit fee of £19.20 per person. An EU national applying for settled status will pay “no more than the cost charged to British citizens for a UK passport” – £85.

What’s wrong about all this? Just about everything. The casual disregard for basic humanity shown by successive governments – Labour, Coalition and Conservative – is a disgrace.

Then there is the cavalier destruction of landing cards which could prove people’s status – evidence of a culture that puts cost savings above justice and even above efficiency.

Why should a person who came from Antigua in the 1960s be treated worse than someone who came from Guadeloupe, less than 50 miles away?

Yet because France insists on saying Guadeloupe is a French department, not a colony, the island’s citizens are all EU citizens, so they are all treated infinitely better. And under the transition agreement, will continue to be treated better.

Brexit is our chance to plan an immigration policy that doesn’t discriminate against British citizens – or favour citizens of EU states. This government seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

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Will Podmore is a librarian and writer living in London. He is the author of The EU Bad for Britain – a Trade Union View, British Foreign Policy Since 1870 and The War Against the Working Class.

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